With Article 50 extended, a Brexit solution seems further away than ever

Many MPs will see the extension as proof that there will always be an extension available.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

The United Kingdom’s stay in the European Union has been extended until at least 31 October – assuming, that is, that parliament can’t cohere around a resolution to the Brexit deadlock between then and now.

Many Conservative MPs want to use the time to get rid of Theresa May. As far as the Tory party rulebook goes, May is immune to challenge until December of this year, but plenty in the cabinet have always believed that “a better class of coup” could dislodge her at any time.

Whether they are right or wrong, the deeper problem is that most Conservative MPs want to get rid of Theresa May but they don’t want to get rid of Theresa May’s parliament, for fear that another election will be lost, but they don’t like any of the potential Brexit outcomes that might command a majority in this parliament. On the Labour side, the blockage lies with the MPs who won’t vote for Theresa May’s deal and won’t vote for anything softer, either.

Something needs to shift to force someone to pick an option they dislike. But what? Downing Street’s hope will be that the desire to avoid having to hold European elections will scare up a parliamentary majority for the deal at last – theoretically possible but it would require that minority of Labour MPs who want a deal like the one on the table to actually vote for it, something that with the exception of a very small minority they have shown no real inclination to do.

As I say in my column this week, the reason why we are where we are is that MPs don’t want to pay the political price of doing Brexit or of stopping Brexit.

Rightly or wrongly, the lesson many MPs will take is that further extensions will always be available: and the path of least resistance, which is extending Article 50 until something comes up, will always be available.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.